Nov. 16, 2015
By Curt Rallo
Zach Auguste, a 6-foot-10 center for the University of Notre Dame men’s basketball team, still has his `Big Papi’ Boston Red Sox jersey back home in Marlborough, Massaschusetts.
It’s right next to the Patriots gear, and next to three of the fabled green Boston Celtics jerseys.
“I’m about ready to buy some new Bruins gear,” says Auguste, whose pride in Boston is riveted into the fabric of his soul like the Boston name that is stitched on the chests of his hometown gear.
“We love our sports in Boston,” Auguste says. “Have you ever seen on TV the Patriots’ fans? Oh, yes. It gets crazy. It gets crazy at Fenway. They’re die-hard fans. I grew up being fans of all those teams, and am, still to this day.
“Boston people are very proud,” Auguste continues. “We take things very seriously. I think we have that toughness … that Boston swagger. We love sports. We have the best teams in the world. We have the best sports dynasty, with the Bruins, the Patriots, the Red Sox, the Celtics.”
Auguste says he loved growing up in and around Boston.
“I had the best of both worlds,” Auguste says. “My Dad lives in the city. My Mom lives in the suburbs. It’s more fastbeat, uptempo in the city. I get street smarts from my Dad. When I’m with my mother, it’s more laid back. We ride bikes in the neighborhood.”
Auguste’s passion is skyrocketing lately because the Notre Dame football team and Fighting Irish fans will be taking over Fenway Park, when the Shamrock Series puts its stamp on Boston.
“Notre Dame fans are going to love Fenway Park and that area,” Auguste says. “That area is cool, and it’s historic. The food is good. They’ve got some good stands. The (hot) dogs are really good. It’s a great atmosphere. It’s fun. It’s lively.
“Boston is a perfect city for the Shamrock Series, definitely, especially with the Irish heritage. I’m surprised they haven’t done this more often.”
Growing up in the Boston area cultivated a pride and toughness that has helped Auguste emerge as a senior leader for the Fighting Irish basketball team, and into an NBA prospect.
Known for soaring, rim-rattling thunderdunks, Auguste gave the Irish impact inside as he elevated his game in the postseason. Auguste averaged 12.5 points and 5.9 rebounds a game during the 2014-15 regular season. He helped the Irish capture their first conference tournament as they marched through Miami, and basketball royalty Duke and North Carolina on the way to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Auguste’s double-double (16 points and 13 rebounds) against North Carolina played a huge part in putting the ACC Tournament trophy in Irish hands.
Auguste shined during in the NCAA Championship, averaging 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. He scored 20 points and fought for nine rebounds in an Elite Eight contest against a No. 1 Kentucky team considered to have the most talented front line in the nation.
Named to the NCAA Midwest Regional all-tournament team, Auguste’s improvement from his sophomore season was dramatic. Auguste averaged 6.7 points and 4.3 rebounds a game in 2013-14. Auguste led the Irish last season in field goal shooting, hitting 61.9 percent of his shots. He finished second on the Irish in scoring (12.9) and rebounding (6.5).
Auguste put up the kind of numbers last season that have the Irish considering him a double-double threat for every game this season. Auguste scored in double figures in 28 of the 37 games he played in, and scored 20 points or more in five games. He had grabbed seven or more rebounds in 17 games for the Fighting Irish. Auguste had four double-doubles last season.
“It’s been a process,” Fighting Irish assistant coach Rod Balanis says. “Zach had flashes during the regular season, but I thought he was just brilliant during our postseason run. The run in the ACC Tournament, I thought he was great, especially in the championship game against Carolina. I thought he did a good job against (Jahlil) Okafor in the semifinals, and how he played in the NCAA Tournament, the Northeastern game, the Butler game, and what he did against Kentucky.
“Things he used to let frustrate him, he now lets go,” Balanis says. “We have a phrase in our program, “On to the next play.’ Coach Brey is always saying that, “On to the next play.” I think Zach has really bought into that.”
Auguste, elected a captain by his teammates for the upcoming 2015-16 campaign, has found the right balance of maturity, passion and toughness to mix in with this talent.
“I think Zach is one of the better big guys in the country,” Balanis says. “I’m biased, of course. I’ve been coaching the guy for four years. Everybody talks about wanting to shoot the outside jumper, work on my outside game, to be an NBA players, trying to be a three. Zach has always thought of himself as a post guy. He’s comfortable being called a center. Some guys don’t even want to be called a center, when they’re 6-foot-9 and above.
“I think Zach’s an NBA player, especially with his talent level, and how hard he’s worked to put himself in this situation. I think he’s got to prove a few things to the scouts, in rebounding, but his talent, the way he runs the floor, that’s very rare in the big guy. If he keeps playing with the maturity level he’s shown us, we’re going to be a hard out most nights.”
Pete Hutchins, the head basketball coach at New Hampton School (New Hampton, Mass.), saw Auguste develop dramatically in his two seasons there.
“It’s really enjoyable for me to see Zach evolve with Notre Dame,” Hutchins says. “I always like to remind Zach of how far he’s come.
“The year Zach came to me, he didn’t have an offer from Holy Cross, which is a Patriot League school right down the road from where he comes,” Hutchins says. “It’s pretty cool how much better of a player he’s become. He has evolved physically. He’s gotten a heck of a lot stronger at Notre Dame, and he’s grown a little bit.”
Hutchins says that Auguste has been fortunate to be surrounded by good people, whether is was staff at New Hampton School, or his AAU coach, Vin Pastore. Auguste also benefitted from competing with and against exceptional basketball players while at New Hampton.
“I think that this area of New England is collectively the best high school basketball in the United States,” Hutchins said. “The concentration of talent up here would be hard to replicate anywhere. On the teams that Zach played with and against, Noah Vonleh is a lottery pick, Olivier Hanlon was a second-round draft pick, freshman of the year in the ACC, first-team ACC. Zach played against Nerlens Noel, who is in the NBA … the list goes on and on and on.”
Auguste says that his upbringing has been a major influence, especially as he steps into a leadership role as a senior.
“Ever since I was little, coaches emphasized certain principles where you have to be able to lead, eventually,” Auguste says. “You have to develop certain characteristics so you can lead. I’ve been taught that you have to make the people around you better. That’s influenced me my entire life.
“I feel I have to lead by example, and I have to be able to communicate. You have to be able to give out criticism as well as accept it. That’s an important thing about leadership. You have to have trust, and the confidence to step into the role of leadership.”
Auguste, a film, television and theatre major in the College of Arts and Letters, appreciates the resources that Notre Dame has provided him in order to develop his leadership skills. He said that the resources Notre Dame offers student-athletes across the board are invaluable.
“Notre Dame provides excellent resources,” Auguste says. “That’s one of the things they do a heck of a job at, whether it’s academic, athletic, helping you find a job. They’ve helped me become more of a man, and mature. They’ve helped me learn to handle real-world stuff.”
Auguste loves the fact that the Fighting Irish football team is playing in Fenway, and he loves the fact that he and the Irish basketball team are scheduled to play at Boston College on Thursday, Jan, 7, 2016.
“It means the world to go back home and play,” Auguste says. “I get to see my friends and family, and have them support me. I get to play in front of them. I love it.”
Balanis says that the Irish are counting on Auguste’s Boston toughness.
“We call guys from the East Coast I-95 guys,” says Balanis, referring to the Interstate that runs from Maine to Miami, touching Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and slices through Tobacco Road on its way to talent-rich Florida.
“Those I-95 guys, man, they have a toughness about them, especially the Boston guys,” Balanis said. “There’s something about the culture up there. The last couple of years, with Pat Connaughton, the toughness that he had, you can see an I-95 edge. I think Bonzie Colson has that kind of toughness.
“I think Zach has the same kind of toughness,” Balanis says. “Zach takes a lot of pride in where he’s from. There’s a lot of pride in Marlborough, where he’s from, in Zach.”